Torture Should Be Accounted For

Torture is among the most heinous crimes known to humankind. It should never be excused, it should never go unpunished. It is not about who the tortured are, or what the tortured know. It is not about what they have done, what they believe, or whether they would do the same. It is about who we are, and how human beings should be treated. It is about our humanity, that is all.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Waiting Won't Do

This post is about advocacy. Because regardless of whether or not we plumb the depths of why the American public does not rally to end the torture and abuse committed against prisoners in their name, in our name, unless they do, this country will continue to do what it should not, and apparently in increasing, not decreasing amounts, with increasing, and not decreasing secrecy, in increasing, and not decreasing torture "cleanliness".

I am not an advocate by nature. My posts are an attempt to research and divulge facts that I find it hard to collect together, thinking maybe that by putting them together I make it easier for those who read them to try to get a picture of what has been going on. I am not a lawyer, I don't go argue cases for these people, I have never met them. Even so, I don't find the laws involved, the international treaties that everybody knows about, to be so abstruse that one needs any special training to understand their point. I don't know whether the prisoners are good or bad people, I don't seem to care. Do I care that they may have meant harm to me? It shouldn't matter when the concern is how we treat people, and something so basic as human dignity. I believe we are losing the battle against those who want to create a permanent, off the shelf, covert entity that operates beyond the law, beyond the branches of American government. People have said that a balanced attitude is to believe that they want nothing but the most patriotic of things for America, they just have gone about it in the wrong way. I find that hard to believe. Almost from the start, the efforts have been to change what was right and wrong, to change how the very most basic functions of government work, and finally, with the subject at hand, change the most basic ways in which we tell right from wrong.

If one focuses on what is easy to grasp, one gets a certain vocabulary, a mental space, populated with frames of violent torture, with concepts like alien illegal combatant detainee. The place is Guantanamo, the time frame is 2002 to 2004, the words are things like waterboarding, enhanced interrogation. There may or may not be something wrong with this mental space. It blends easily with others that allow, if not numbness, then containment. No one would be suggesting that we could put off investigating and prosecuting the wrongs committed in the name of this country if that weren't possible. We can wait to prosecute because we are believing that we are investigating a committed crime, then there is ample time to wait for the correct moment, the proper advantage, the right number of people on our side in Congress, the right president, the right moment, the right combination of factors that will maximize our advantage and allow us to win. Or to declare that we will change the way the country works, move forward instead of dwelling on the past. We have important things to do. We contain things in space and time because it makes them bearable. Politicians contain them in space and time because they fit better under the rug.

Do you remember the Heisenberg uncertainty principle? When you confine something in space, make the photograph sharp, make it so you can see every detail, then it expands in time. When you confine it in time, be sure of when it happened, how fast it is evolving, when it started, then it blurs indefinitely in space, and the picture isn't sharp. There is a limit to how much something with rest mass, defined by Einstein's famous formula, may be confined. You can take that principle to the bank, it's used in your cell phone, its used in the computer that you access the internet and read blogs on. It's very, very real.

In the case of torture by Americans or for Americans, perhaps there is an uncertainty principle at work as well. You can confine it, and the problem seems manageable. On this date, they began the torture of Abu Zubaydah, on the other, they started the sensory deprivation of Mohammed al Qahtani, this is when John Yoo wrote his memo, that is who was present in the Situation Room at the White House, we use saran wrap to do our waterboarding, it comes from Pol Pot not Torquemada, there are 14 prisoners that arrived from the Black Sites to Guantanamo, the Geneva Conventions says that an accused civilian may not be deported from the country of occupation. December 2001, January 2002, April 2004, October 2006 confine it in time. Confine it in place. The less energy it has, the tighter it may be confined, after all, a body of evidence with no momentum creates no change when it impacts your mind.

None of that is true if confinement doesn't exist. The only question that determines whether or not the whole question of American torture is something that can conveniently wait till the next president, the next session of Congress, Deng Xiaoping's four M's (ming tien, ming yueh, ming nien, ming bei, as the joke goes, tomorrow, next month, next year, next life), or whatever is this one. Is it confined? And that means, just like the uncertainty principle, do we see it clearly and where is it going?

First, do we see it clearly?

I was released from "solitary confinement" after being held therein for 37 months. A silent system was imposed on me and to even "whisper" to the man in the next cell resulted in being beaten by guards, sprayed with chemical mace, black-jacked, stomped, and thrown into a 'strip-cell' naked to sleep on a concrete floor without bedding, covering, wash basin, or even a toilet. The floor served as toilet and bed, and even there the "silent system" was enforced. To let a "moan" escape your lips because of the pain and discomfort resulted in another beating. I spent not days, but months there during my 37 months in solitary.

That was not from Guantanamo. It was from Ohio state prison (quoted in Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect, pp. 249-250). Waterboarding is easy to understand as torture. The prisoner gasps for life, the implements look medieval, the scene in the movie Rendition is gut wrenching to watch. Privation is silent, it doesn't look gut wrenching at any given time, no sirens or red flags go up to mark the disintegration of a personality due to sleep or sensory deprivation and solitary confinement, no marks or bruises mark the organ damage from hypo- or hyperthermia. By the time someone gets to interrogation, just shouting at them may be all that's needed to inflict this sort of torture, maybe all that causes the mind to shred is a touch that makes them to unclean to pray, their only hope of being saved from the torment they are in removed in front of any camera that will fail to show the sharp edges of what has happened. In 2006, Barbara Olshansky writes,

While the full population of the CIA's web of secret detention facilities has not yet been definitely ascertained, media reports, along with reports of several leading human rights groups, indicate that the government may be holding in excess of fourteen thousand people at more than three dozen detention centers around the world, at least half of which operate in secret (Democracy Detained, p. 219).

Where? She further reports a whole constellation of sites in Afghanistan. Bagram Air Base and Kandahar are familiar from the papers. Other facilities are not. Reports have been in our papers of prisoners in Afghanistan that were killed using "peroneal strikes". Comfortable, when there is violence, because we understand. That is torture, that is what we mean by it. Even Darius Rejali has trouble talking about torture that has no physical component, no beatings, no use of force. So we shudder, as we should, over descriptions like, "He was purportedly stripped, chained to the floor, assaulted, and left overnight without covering. He died from exposure." (Democracy Detained, p. 225).

Well then, if it wasn't contained in place, was it contained in time? Surely we now have those laws in place. We have people who sit in front of our congress and testify that the law has changed, or the situation has changed, or something has changed (Condoleezza Rice has used those words at least within the last two weeks if not the last few days). We have the Detainee Treatment Act, we have explicit bans against torture, we have Supreme Court decisions. We have revelations coming faster and more furious, we have testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee, we have publication of hundreds of pages of reports about the FBI complaints, we have this under control? We are still talking about something in the past, something that will withstand the slow march of justice, the slow but inexorable wheels of congressional debate and testimony and an election that will bring to power a new government, elected by a people who want change, who want to move forward and not dwell on the divisiveness of the past, a new government, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the principle...

No. When a cancerous tumor is excised, there is remission and the patient believes they have turned the corner, it has been contained, the threat has passed, and the moments that seemed special when they were all one had left are now to become the normal moments of boredom and liveliness of a life with future. To find out at that point that the cancer has metastasized is devastating. Amnesty International is reporting, in Afghanistan, under the title, Abuse by International Forces, the subsection, Torture and other ill treatment,

ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] forces continued to transfer detainees to the NDS [Afghani National Directorate of Security], despite allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by the NDS. Attempts by international forces to monitor transferred detainees were inconsistently applied.

In addition, forces involved in the US-led OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom] continued to transfer people to the NDS and to US-run detention facilities, including at Bagram airbase near Kabul. US authorities transferred more than 100 detainees from Bagram and Guantánamo to the newly refurbished D-Block of the high security Pol-e Charkhi prison outside Kabul. It was not clear who had oversight of the D-Block. About 600 detainees were believed to remain in Bagram at the end of the year (Amnesty International Report 2008, Afghanistan).

So it is still going on? Perhaps this is just more of the same, after all, the Guardian reported on the United States' use of Afghanistan as a giant prison colony in 2005. So perhaps this should not be seen as something new. And besides, we hear from our government that prisoners are being released. There were many hundreds of prisoners at Guantanamo, there are now 275, the rest have been sent home. What does that mean? In April, the New York Times reported that they faced secret trials with little justice, back in Afghanistan. A fuller report, complete with numbers, and details about corruption and bribery, the name of the cellblock in question, the name of the Afghani agency that got them is available from RAWA, the Afghani women's civil rights organization. They are held by the National Security Directorate, the organization mentioned in the Amnesty document above. And the numbers? Perhaps since 2006 something has changed? If there are 13,000 prisoners in Afghanistan, then an awful lot are disappeared. After all, the ICRC reports 10,100 prisoners in 2008, and has registered 435 for the first time. Almost twice as many new prisoners that the Red Cross knows about, this year, than there are at Guantanamo. Easily ten times as many that the Red Cross does not know about as there are in Guantanamo. And fifty times as many in all. There are 14,000 more in Iraq.

So while we are blithely believing that hearings that might just produce David Addington (if he deigns to honor a subpoena from his perch in the fourth branch of government) are real progress, while we feel good about demanding from each of the remaining presidential candidates that they promise to close Guantanamo, while we feel righteous about asking Michael Mukasey to denounce waterboarding, or John McCain to vote on torture legislation, the number of new prisoners is as many as it took years to build up at Guantanamo Bay, the torture is still close confinement and passive subjection to harsh changes in heat and cold, there are still plenty of new prisoners that are prevented from sleeping night after night.

In short, we aren't winning yet.

June 26th is the International Day Against Torture. Before that day, can we do anything that will make the country arouse from its slumber on this one? By then can each candidate be forced to answer the question of whether or not they know what the other branch of government is doing in Afghanistan? By then can enough people write their congressional delegation to tell them that solitary confinement to the point of madness is torture too, even if no water lands on a prisoner's face? By June 26th we must raise a voice in this country. We must make it impossible to confine our country's misdeeds to a small enough place and time that it will fit between the shuffle of more comfortable legislation. We must make it uncomfortable for every politician from every part of the spectrum to appear in public without these questions answered. There are a few towns in America in which it is illegal for these torturers to set foot. They should be persona non grata in every major metropolis, and every mayor should know that as far away as Washington is, there is moral rot in most prisons in the land and that is unacceptable too. It should not be comfortable to put the immigrants slated for deportation out of mind while they endure different standards of care that kill or abuse them in transport or detention. All that makes it too easy to endure what is happening in our military prisons abroad.

Please. We need to start changing this country now, not wait for November.

Before June 26th, every American should be confronted with a new reality: They don't hate us for our freedoms, they hate us for our prisons. We should too, not a few of them hold Americans at home, in conditions that make the tortures we commit abroad more palatable because we've grown used to widespread abuse. Prisons and torture are our cancer, and we are not in remission. We cannot wait for some bringer of change, some mandate from heaven. Not while we continue this mandate from hell.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Discrimination of Any Kind

In the classic presentation of the ticking bomb theory, there is a bomb somewhere ready to destroy a large American city, and there is a prisoner who knows where the bomb is. The prisoner needs to be tortured because the crime of torturing the prisoner is outweighed by the need to save lives. In the classic rebuttal to the ticking bomb theory, one usually hears two things: That the ticking bomb scenario never happens, and that torture produces unreliable information because the prisoner will tell you what it is he thinks you want him to say, to get the torture to stop.

At least I think that's how it goes. In my mind, the torture is wrong always, so the decision is clear. There are many variations of the ticking bomb scenario, proponents like to stress that first one makes the question so stark that the answer is not in question, then one argues that the case has been made and it's a matter of judgment as to where the line is. Sometimes one needs to remember that there are plenty of unwritten assumptions involved, even in the unlikely case, that are not articulated.

The Unwritten Assumptions

The biggest among these is the assumption that there is no other way to get the prisoner to divulge the information. The next is that the information must stay secure, from the existence of the prisoner, to the tactic used, to the information divulged, since once the prisoner parts with the information, we must know that no one can change the circumstances. The next is that we know exactly how to get them to talk, and how to interpret the information, and how to link the information to the defusing process quickly enough to avert disaster. There are a quick set of names for these three unwritten assumptions: The first is called dehumanization. The prisoner is so evil that we can assume there is no non-violent way of getting the information. The second is called anonymity. The need for secrecy begets a need to do things that you don't want to know. The third is called control. The extraction of information is being done professionally, the ability to manipulate the prisoner is total. Oddly, these unwritten assumptions are exactly the conditions predicting the Stanford Prison Experiment. So the message to anyone advocating the ticking bomb theory is: Bet you can't do it just once. It is guaranteed to go out of control.

But the first assumption, like I said, is the biggest. There is no other way to get the information. This is frequently not an appeal to fact, it is an appeal to commonly held belief, or to gut instinct, or to any and all of the more vile emotions that underlie true dehumanization: racism, prejudice, xenophobia. There is a reason why the U.N. Convention Against Torture, Article 1, has more forms of torture than are commonly supposed (I was truly surprised with Philippe Sands for citing only the first two, interrogation and confession, The Torture Team, p. 169). Article 1 also includes punishment, intimidation, and coercion, and it includes the curious phrase,"or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind".

How strange. But if you look at the history of the U.S. recent descent into torture, this phrase says everything about that unwritten assumption, everything about why torture is really done. It isn't the ticking bomb scenario that gives rise to the assumption that torture has become necessary, it's this unwritten assumption: The prisoner is so evil that this must be done. Torture is the only language this prisoner understands. This was a requirement among the Greeks and the Romans (Rejali, Torture and Democracy p.36, or see also Harrison at A1-A3).

The assumption is pervasive. During the testimony on May 6th before the House Judiciary Committee, at one point after the statements were read and the questioning had begun, it was generally agreed between David Rivkin and the members of the Judiciary Committee, who also attempted to get agreement from others after Marjorie Cohn said that she would write a statute that would require that a prisoner from whom one wanted information would specify treating the prisoner with kindness and respect and build a rapport (see the webcast, at about 1:17).

The Forensic Evidence

But FBI documentation, available at various points during the history of the U.S. and its current problems with prisoner abuse, seems to say otherwise. The FBI has a different opinion of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation, in which the CIA, possibly with help from the National Security Council Principals, subjected this "high value detainee" to multiple "enhanced interrogation" methods up to and including waterboarding. They believed (p.ix) that they had begun to establish a rapport with the prisoner, when he was taken away for harsher questioning. The FBI also objected to the treatment of Mohammed al Qahtani, the prisoner whose interrogation Philippe Sands documents in The Torture Team. Aside from feeling that the interrogations would spoil the ability to try al Qahtani in court, they worried that it would taint the agents who interrogated him, if they did so after he had been badly treated. Evident in their testimony is the fact that they thought their techniques would work, but would take time (p. 84). As Mr. Sands so aptly points out, time should not have been the issue, as they had had him in captivity for the better part of a year (The Torture Team, p. 224).

It really wasn't that. The military and CIA interrogators did not believe the FBI techniques would work at all. The FBI special agent in charge during the first stages of the al Qahtani interrogation was interviewed (p. 90),

Demeter told the OIG that he argued with Miller that by using proven law enforcement interview tactics such as rationalizing the conduct along with the subject, joining the subject in projecting blame for the conduct on others, or minimizing the severity of the conduct with the subject, the barriers to confession are reduced and cooperation becomes more likely. Demeter told the OIG that these tactics may sound "touchy-feely" or "counterintuitive," but they had been very successful with hard core criminals in the past.

The real problem was that there was a perception, and still is, in the minds of the administration lawyers and spokespeople, in the minds of policy makers at the Pentagon, in the minds of the interrogators, and many others, that these are a fundamentally different kind of prisoner, that they will not succumb to rapport building techniques, that they are somehow different, somehow inhuman.

This is most certainly not an empirical observation coming from past history. The whole reason that the FBI had been asked to participate in the initial interrogations of people like Abu Zubaydah, and al Qahtani, and many others, was because of their interrogation expertise, and the fact that they had had good results interrogating al Qaeda prisoners in the past. Remember that famous August 6, PDB, the one called Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US? It contains the following paragraph:

The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of Bin Ladin's first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself, but that Bin Ladin lieutenant Abu Zubaydah encouraged him and helped him facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubayday was planning his own US attack.

Ressam says Bin Ladin was aware of the Los Angeles operation.

The Case of the Real Ticking Bomb Warning

That PDB, the closest thing in the whole nearly eight years of the Bush administration to a ticking time bomb warning, got its evidence by FBI Behavioral Analysis Units, rapport building, and non-torture interrogation of an al Qaeda suspect, one who, like al Qahtani, had been spotted trying to enter the U.S. by an alert border agent -- evidently the border agents catch even al Qaeda suspects with standard methods with some regularity, too.

The effort to dehumanize, the need to present those who are now called variously islamofascists, jihadi terrorists, or Muslim extremists, by the administration, as something other than human beings has a history dating to the 1980's and Douglas Feith's successful lobbying in the Reagan Administration to not ratify the 1977 Geneva Conventions First Additional Protocol, with other roots in the New Sovereigntist movement that disliked the perceived encroachment of international human rights treaties and protocols into U.S. sovereignity.

But the text of the U.N. Convention Against Torture Article 1 says, essentially, that all the reasons for torture that were conceived of by limiting access to legal opinions, by discussing techniques without expertise, and by forming interrogation policies by ideology instead of science, are reasons that have been seen before. Just like the excuses of, "I didn't see it," when the ICRC presented the administration with complaints about Guantanamo and Bagram, which the ICRC had seen before and therefore had a policy to disseminate their documents to the entire chain of command.

And so, that last reason for harsh treatment has meaning, in retrospect, when it turns out that the prisoner would have given up the information about the ticking bomb without harsh treatment: or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind. It covers the other reasons for torture perfectly. It's as clear in this case as the clause in Article 2: No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Death and Memorial Day

Some things are inherently hard to talk about. Others are banned from conversation, an implication that no matter what is said, it will cause pain or hurt to someone. It's hard to talk about death, and gets harder as the number of deaths go up. But at this point in my ruminations about the public attitude about torture, it all comes down to a change in how we perceive death. And so death must be talked about, no matter how hard. Memorial Day in the United States is a day when it is appropriate to talk about death, about some deaths, but it makes this talk no easier.

Over at Firedoglake, loosheadprop has made this job just a little easier, in her discussion of jus cogens, she notes, of her law professors at Yale,

They followed an evolution of human rights law from periods when citizens would surrender all of their rights in exchange for security (Dark Ages anyone?) through the Enlightenment's ideas about natural law, with detours through Communism's "collectivism" and down to the authors' modern vision of a "policy based" approach to human rights.

I wish it were so. I wish that human thought was well-ordered, an inevitable march of evolution. But the Dark Age for torture that was ended by John Donne by the Enlightenment, followed on Pope Nicolas I's unequivocal ban on torture in 866 (see here, at B1) as unacceptable under both divine and human law, because it produced confession that was not voluntary. A few hundred years later, facing the usual "existential threat", the Dark Ages reversed compelling law, as the U.S. seems to have done recently. I am coming to the conclusion that the problem is death, and that what is keeping many of Americans from understanding the concepts in looseheadprop's piece, is the notion that nothing is as important as death.

Here Comes the Hard Part

We have become a culture that enshrines some deaths as beyond speech. I wish this weren't the problem, but I think it is. Because we cannot talk about certain deaths in the past, we are unable to put death into its proper place in our thoughts -- because we have these outstanding atrocities that allow the loss of life to seem always evil, and that allow the preservation of life to trump all other concerns. Death becomes primordial, schemes to defeat it become obligatory, questions are not allowed to be asked.

So let's talk about September 11 and Pearl Harbor. Even before the September 11 attacks, the term "Pearl Harbor like event" to denote a cataclysm that would change the way Americans think of their society, and facilitate change that some thought necessary, was in documents produced by the Project for a New American Century (in Rebuilding America's Defenses:Strategies, Forces And Resources For A New Century, 2000, the group apparently has taken their website down). The comparable part of the two events was the death toll in American lives. 2350 Americans died at Pearl Harbor, 2973 died as a result of the September 11th attacks. And to many, if not most, that was all that mattered when concerned with the subsequent response. And so there is a perception of an existential threat.

They were not equal as existential threats, though. Japan was an aggressive nation-state, with a large war machine, conducting an essentially repeatable attack. Except for the element of surprise, they could have subsequently done the same attack, executed the same set of maneuvers against, for example, a large American city. They had already invaded China and parts of Indochina, and would soon occupy Burma, challenging the British Empire. They could, and did, sustain full scaled war with the United States and plenty of other countries for several years afterward, continuously, at great cost of human lives in all the places those wars were fought.

Al Qaeda in no way posed or poses such a threat, nor have they sustained such a war. The plan executed on September 11, was many years in the making, if you count the mistakes, the other attempts. It is fundamental to much of the conduct of the United States subsequent to September 11 that we are facing an existential threat, like we faced after Pearl Harbor. It is therefore fundamental that our institutions and our public maintain their focus on what has become an obsession in America, the death toll. That is all that makes the events comparable.

That wasn't a nice thing to say, but there are things that are even less nice. Comparisons to the Holocaust, and to many grievous events in recent history are not, in many fundamental ways, permissible in America, or in Europe, or many other places. When Philippe Sands talks of comparisons between the Justice Cases at Nuremburg and the abuses after September 11 by the United States, he disclaims them:

The scale of the atrocity described in the Justice Cases was staggering and cannot be compared with what apparently happened at Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib. I felt uncomfortable even making that kind of comparison, but what struck me as a point of connection was the underlying cause...
The scale of the atrocity is, in modern times, defined by numbers: the extermination of 6 million Jews by the Nazis is a genocide, but the scale of death is the reason it is never compared, or compared only reluctantly. But Philippe Sands is right, the point is the underlying connection. The point is difficult to make because death stands in its way, and blurs the vision of many in the discussion.

More Hard Thoughts

Equally off limits is the preservation of life at great cost, though. This preservation goes on in hospitals all the time, and has only recently had much challenge. It is assumed in the notion of implied consent: A patient that is not conscious, or is not alert and oriented, is assumed to consent to the treatments needed to keep the patient alive. It is believed that any sane individual that is alert and oriented, under the circumstances, would give such consent, so it is implied. This goes further in applications of the Hippocratic Oath, actually the dictum of Galens to "above all, do no harm." It is interpreted much like implied consent.

A patient is kept alive at all costs. Frequently, the reason for keeping the patient alive is couched in an optimistic belief that a cure might be imminent, and the patient might recover, but this is obviously not the reality in some instances. I can recall a patient kept alive through two weeks of acute vasculitis, intense pain of the sort that was offered as possibly cruel and unusual in the recent debates about lethal injections, on the basis of the imminent cure argument. The patient clearly wanted to die, the doctors at the time dismissed that desire, and in fact would have been prohibited from facilitating it. There would never have been a way for a cure to have occurred and become practicable in such a time frame, the argument reflected an extreme fear of death in our society, and little else.

And what of beliefs? A sizable number of Americans alive right now wait anxiously for the Second Coming, believing that it will occur within their own lives if the conditions are right, and they will bodily enter the Kingdom of Heaven. There will be no death if that occurs, and it would appear that the importance of such an event as a source of comfort in people's lives would not be insignificantly tied to having cheated death: "Oh death where is thy sting, oh grave where is thy victory?"

It goes further: In The Torture Team, Sands records (p. 86) General Hill of the Southern Command as offering in response to questioning the tactics that had been approved by Donald Rumsfeld for interrogation, "They behead us." Execution in this manner is not humane by modern standards, and in fact is a deliberate insult: Those beheaded were killed that way because it is halal, the way of preparing the meat of animals, and so equates those killed with animals. But it is execution. Likewise, when the bodies of contractors were pulled from the vehicles in which they died and hung on a bridge, as grisly and offensive as it was, it was maltreatment of the dead. It offended because of the dignity of the dead, because of the attitude which did not pay enough respect for death and for the dead. But if death is not part of the prescription, as with most of the prisoners in U.S. custody, who have been subject to abuse or torture, then it doesn't rise to the level of this atrocity, this very wrong treatment of death.

Death is our "ultimate sacrifice." It is cited by some as the only part of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" that matters, without life, the others are "meaningless". Our special place for it, if you will, in recent times, transcends everything, and the lack of it is justification. No one has died in terror attacks on American soil since September 11? Whatever the tactic, no matter how brutal, it is successful, don't criticize. It is okay to relegate the Iraq war to the back pages because of the invisibility of death. Not just the lack of images of coffins coming home, or the brutal scenes we saw in the photography of the Vietnam war. For we have been at this war for longer than World War II, and it has consumed only four thousand some lives.

Only? How can anyone say that? It's not right to mention it that way. But hasn't that been the attitude, both in reporting and in the prosecution of this war? It isn't Vietnam, just look at the difference in deaths. Never mind the real reason: the number of casualties saved compared to those lost has changed from 2.5:1 in Vietnam to 16:1 in Iraq. Those who would have been dead get hemicraneotomies and ICP probes, radical new surguries to the spine and the like. Were the toll to be according to the ratio readjusted to the Vietnam era, the toll would be 20,000 dead by now. It is probably this, and not the lack of a draft, that dictates the reaction of the American public, but to say so seems profoundly impolite and inappropriate. It implies that Americans rate the awfulness of tragedy based on a body count, based on death alone.

John Yoo famously equated "severe pain" rising to the level of torture to pain equivalent to "death or organ failure." Pain to the torture victim isn't significant in this view unless it approaches -- death. Death is the prevented effect in the ticking bomb theory. Death has been cheated by 4 draft deferments and 4 coronary bypasses by the man who keeps coming up as central to the shift in American policy away from international law and towards techniques that include torture. It's all about death, about avoiding death at all costs, about the ultimate sacrifice.

And so, to come back again to the theory of evolution and jus cogens in international law: It is the fear of death that causes the "surrender all of their rights in exchange for security." Enlightenment comes, in the sense of jus cogens, in understanding the existence of a fate worse than death. Otherwise there can be no "Give me liberty or give me death!" because it makes no sense, it would be insanity to choose something other than defeating death, even for an instant.

It is Memorial Day in America. In remembering those who have fought and died for this country, in hoping for that permanent peace, it is worth remembering that there are things that are worth such sacrifice, and there are things that are worse than death itself. If we cannot remember that the sacrifice of soldiers by its very nature implies that fear of death should not cause us to dismantle the evolution towards human rights, and away from torture, slavery, and genocide, if we cannot believe that there are certain human rights that exist regardless of what a person has done or what they believe, then we have forgotten a perspective so fundamental, and acquired at such cost, that we cannot be considered to have evolved at all.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Right To Know

There's a lot of movement in recent days, here are some of the promising developments:

The ACLU has set up a new blog, and is currently devoting it to a week long symposium on torture. They are running at the rate of 3 or 4 articles a day by invited authors. Topics range from extraordinary rendition, to the new disclosures by the Office of the Inspector General at the Justice Department on the FBI response to detainee abuses, to some descriptive materials and discussion of the legal responses. It is well worth the time to go have a look at While you're there, please remember that for every blog post you read here, or you read elsewhere, and for every opinion, for every book or documentary film you've used to stay informed on torture and violations of international or American or other laws, there were probably ten or maybe 100 documents painstakingly tracked down by filing Freedom of Information Act briefs, filing lawsuits, or supporting detainees with counsel or with court cases, that were all done on very limited budgets, by groups like the ACLU. So when you visit a site from any of these groups, if you are in a position to be generous, you should consider contributing.

Scott Horton and others are starting a campaign No Torture No Exceptions. You can read about the initiative in this piece by Scott at Harper's. h/t to George Hunsinger of NRCAT. And you should mark your calendar, as I have mentioned once before, for June 26th. Now there are two reasons to do so: It is the International Day Against Torture, celebrating the entrance into force of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, a treaty that became active on that day in 1987. The treaty was the codification of some of the tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Which brings us to the second reason, because it was an American, Eleanor Roosevelt, who first spearheaded that declaration.

June 26th is also the day the House Judiciary Committee will reconvene to hear testimony from John Yoo, John Ashcroft, David Addington, and should hear testimony from Michael Mukasey and Alberto Gonzales as well, on the policies and events that have lead to the torture and abuse of prisoners in American custody. It is the saddest of ironies that we will have to celebrate Eleanor Roosevelt's hopes with hearings to determine the extent to which the United States has become a state that sanctions torture.

So perhaps the best way that any American, and maybe anyone else who is concerned that these hearings lead to justice, can celebrate is to write. Write to the members of Congress, and tell them the questions that need to be answered. If you've ever watched a committee hearing, you know that each member has just a limited time to try to get information on the subject at hand. The more heads are involved at coming up with the best and most incisive questions to ask, the better the questions will be, and the more truth will be revealed. It's time for the people to interrogate the interrogators. Even if you cannot think of something to ask, you should let them know you care about this issue, you can send an email easily here.

Knowing Not Knowing

It's a take off on a Taoist expression, 'wei wu wei', 為無為, usually translated as 'doing not doing'. Perhaps it should be written zhi bu zhi, 知不知, 'knowing doesn't know'.

It's a good description of where we are with many of the leads of evidence on the involvement of the American government, and indeed, to some extent, American society, in the business of torture. At this point, we know that we do not know everything that we should. We do not know exactly when the torture started after September 11th. Philippe Sands, in The Torture Team, documents when the memos sanctioning torture got to Guantanamo Bay, and resulted in the torture of Mohammed al Qahtani. He certainly wasn't the first, Abu Zubaydah had been tortured before, Ibn al Shaykh al Libi before that. At best, detainee 063, as Mr. Sands calls him, would be the first under explicit written sanction by the U.S. military.

We think. The new document prepared by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice about FBI conduct and reporting of abuse and torture, talks of FBI agents documenting and asking for guidance about military interrogation tactics in the early autumn of 2002. The memo Philippe Sands is working with didn't arrive at Guantanamo until early November. At any rate Abu Zubaydah was interrogated much earlier, and the CIA got their memo in August. al Libi had already been interrogated, reports are that the Egyptians did the dirty work on that interrogation at CIA insistence.

Before that, things are hazy. During the invasion of Afghanistan was when detainee 001, John Walker Lindh was captured at Mazar-e-Sharif. He was mistreated, kept in a shipping container strapped to a board, without clothing, shortly after his apprehension. The practice of containering, or shooting at a container full of detainees, was supposedly occuring around that time as well. And we know that the CIA interrogated prisoners at Kohat prison in Pakistan as the Taliban and foreign fighters were fleeing there during the invasion.

Knowing Not Knowing

'Knowing not knowing' would also describe the attitude towards much that has been done to detainees. We citizens of America are vaguely aware of how they have been treated. Accounts vary. When only parts of the treatment are related, the sum total is lost, and possibly with it, the empathy. It is hard to picture belly slapping as what it is, a hard open handed blow to the abdomen, and picture all that it is doing to a prisoner. The circumstances are not appreciated. There are contexts and substrates, factors that multiply the pain.

We can't relate to some of the treatment the way we should. Prolonged extreme isolation is listed as a tactic that the FBI agents found to be torture -- they were applying the criterion that Americans believe it is torture if it is done by another country to our soldiers. It's a good call, it causes profound changes in psychology including dissociations that become psychotic. But we routinely subject prisoners to extended isolation in our nation's prisons, and we have been 'not knowing' that as torture. Extreme isolation is worse than isolation, but even so, perhaps we are not as nice a people as we would imagine, if a profound torture doesn't sound like it to our ears.

We find beatings to be horrible. But the "Palestinian hanging" that killed Manadel al Jamadi, we don't recognize. We see it over and over again in the Abu Ghraib pictures. We see something like it on cop shows on TV. We see hog tying by police in some arrests. To someone with an injury or shock, or lung damage like al Jamadi had sustained, these techniques lead to positional asphyxia (suffocation due to a position in which a person cannot breathe). Emergency medical workers are forbidden from transporting patients in some of these positions for that reason. This manner of death was one of the ways people died by crucifixion. But it doesn't look that bad. We don't know it as torture until we're told.

Knowing Not Knowing

'Knowing not knowing' is profoundly the means by which the mind itself shreds under the 'clean' tortures. Sensory deprivation teaches the mind to know not knowing. No sensory input should mean no consciousness. It is natural in a state of sleep. It isn't natural in a wakeful state. There are religious and meditational practices that strive for such states. But this isn't one of them. No one sits in a zendo -- eyes fixed on the wall, legs crossed on the cushions, hands carefully folded with thumbs touching -- fearing imminent death, in a state of total captivity, with shackles and a total uncertainty of the future.

We who observe cannot know what we do not know, but we can know that not knowing can be painful. The Convention Against Torture bans threats of death both to the prisoner or to those the prisoner knows or cares for. But there is more: The constant pain of not knowing is considered torture by the U.N. Committee that oversees the adherence to the Torture Convention. Completely disappearing a prisoner is a form of torture. Consider the effect on the relatives of the prisoner: They do not know if this person is alive or dead, for years on end. They may not be able to subsist with that not knowing -- should they continue to search or abandon the prisoner? Is the prisoner the wage earner? What are the social customs for a widow, for example, if a widow is even what a person is, whose spouse has simply disappeared. The prisoner, in the dark night of prolonged extreme isolation, or even just in the isolation of no communication to the outside for years on end, always has the time to ponder this. And knowing this not knowing causes extreme pain.

June 26th, we must know what we do not know. Knowing not knowing could drive America mad.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Convergent threads often seem like coincidences when they show up together. You are working on an idea, and a colleague says something of great use to you, further discussion proves you have been having similar thoughts. A theory awaits a breakthrough, something happens that provides it. When the subject is torture, it seems that many threads lead to legitimacy.

Torture and Democracy

That's the title of a detailed study of torture by Darius Rijali. George Hunsinger, who teaches at Princeton Theological Seminary, and founded the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), calls it, "quite simply the most authoritative study of torture ever written, " in his review in the upcoming July edition of Theology Today. According to the review, the book contains, in addition to a comprehensive catalog and history of techniques, an analysis of the relationship between torture and democracies. The results are quite ominous: the torture fails to generate the information it was started to generate, and the corruption it entails, and the creation of the class of people who have been corrupted, is a threat to a democracy. As Dr. Hunsinger puts it,

When politicians first heard of the torture, they denied it happened, minimized the violence, and called it ill treatment. When the evidence mounted, they tried a few bad apples, disparaged the prisoners, and observed that terrorists had done worse things. They claimed torture was effective and necessary, and counterchallenged that critics were aiding the enemy. Some offered apologies, but accepted no responsibility. Others preferred not to dwell on past events.

The torture would continue, yielding no reliable information, while the democracies remained mired in war against weaker enemies. "Soon," states Rejali, "politicians had to choose between losing their democracy and losing their war. That is how democracies lose wars." It is also, we might fear, how they lose their democracies.

Darius Rejali also wrote a pair of pieces for Salon, after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004. He outlined the fall of the French 4th Republic to the tortures during the Battle of Algiers. Dr. Rejali in recounting the history of torture in Torture's Dark Allure (Salon), mentions two ways in which torture affects democracies: it gets legitimized against whole classes of people (he mentions the Greeks and Romans using it against slaves and 'lesser citizens'), or it corrupts a government that legitimizes its use, by creating an unaccountable executive (the Italian city states) or military (the French 4th republic), that brings down or takes over the government.

Curiously, he says that the first option, circumscribing torture to an entire class of people, is not available to modern states. That leaves the second, with its prediction against any modern state that uses torture. Then, he discusses 'clean torture', to which Dr. Hunsinger responds,

A paradoxical point is made about the importance of public monitoring. On the one hand, it has recently led to the adoption of torture techniques that are difficut to detect. Torture that leaves no marks – like sleep deprivation, waterboarding, long-time standing and subjection to long periods of extreme hot or cold – are no less devastating to the victims (and the perpetrators) than torture that leaves visible scars, but because they are stealthy, they are now preferred by the democracies that resort to them. (Rejali unfortunately dubs this development "clean torture," a repugnant term that one hopes will fail to catch on.)

The threads leading to legitimacy perhaps speak to a new implementation of both outcomes in the current context.

The Tale of the Red Crescent

In 2005, the Third Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions added the Red Crystal to the Red Cross and the Red Crescent as symbols of neutrality under the Conventions, ending a five year dispute that originated with the petition to use the Magen David Agom as an alternate symbol. It's interesting that the dispute centered on religious symbolism, and got very heated at times. The modern conception seems to be that the Red Crescent is used by Muslims because they objected to the Christian religious symbol (the Red Cross) being used. Presumably, the desire to use the Jewish religious symbol was from similar sentiment. That lead to wrangling during which shrieking headlines by some proclaimed that groups wanted a "red Nazi swastika"!

The red swastika had been proposed, but not as a Nazi symbol, and therein lies the strangeness of the whole debate. Because to large parts of the world, the swastika is a religious symbol that has nothing to do with whether or not it was appropriated by the Nazis for a brief period of history, it having been used since neolithic times. A religious symbol was associated with a state power that was repugnant and the enemy of others. It turns out that that is why the Red Crescent was also adopted, because, to a High Party at the time, (1870's), the cross was the symbol of an enemy of the Ottoman Empire in war, that is, the Crusades. When the cross and crescent were formalized in 1929, neither had been adopted for their religious connotations: one was adopted as the reverse colors of the flag of the homeland of the founder of the movement, and one as an alternative to adopting the symbol of a former enemy in war.

In the course of researching this, I discovered that much of the debate over symbols centered on legitimacy, and then, reading through the documents at the ICRC web site, and searching for current opinions of them, discovered that the Geneva Conventions are at least as much about conferring legitimacy as about anything else, aside from their obvious legally binding virtues. The Reagan administration did not adopt the 1977 First Additional Protocols out of fear that it would legitimize terrorists, most of the debate leading to their signing was about fears that they would legitimize various insurrections and rebellions. The recommendations to President Reagan had been that they would legitimize the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which was not unfounded, given that the PLO had been invited to participate in the talks in order to legitimize the opinions with respect to liberation groups.

The mantra recited about terrorists is that they do not wear a fixed emblem and carry their weapons in plain sight, which is supposed to de-legitimize them with respect to the Third Convention on prisoners of war. In point of fact, it actually, at the time of the treaty, probably referred to 'spies and saboteurs' whose punishment for illegitimacy was to be held incommunicado, not denied the entire treaty. The treaties were, after all, the byproduct of multiple European wars, not guerrilla struggles that became more common with decolonization.

Upholding the Law by Withholding the Law

Philippe Sands, in The Torture Team, has a curious chapter (chapter 5) about Douglas Feith, in which Feith advocates that upholding the Geneva Conventions requires withholding their protections (p. 33). It is an argument based on incentives. If a party does not obey the Geneva Conventions, then if their soldiers who are hors de combat are granted protection, it removes the incentive for that party to adhere to the Conventions, which is the point of the Conventions in the first place. Consequently, by denying Geneva Conventions protections to the Taliban and al Qaeda, even, apparently, Common Article 3, one is strengthening the power of international humanitarian law to be a humanitarian force in war.

But Mr. Feith has a longer history with the Geneva Conventions than that, as Mr. Sands mentions, and as is readily available information on the Internet. The author of the advice to President Reagan urging him to withhold sending the First Additional Protocol of 1977 to Congress for ratification was Mr. Feith. The question was, of course, legitimacy. Terrorists, specifically the PLO, would gain legitimacy under the protocols, because they would need to be treated as prisoners of war if captured. Consequently, the reason the Conventions contain no explicit language for dealing with soldiers who do not display distinctive marks and carry weapons openly other than spies and saboteurs, the reason that the Geneva Conventions cannot apply to them because they have not agreed to abide by them with signatures, is because they are not allowed to, because they are illegitimate. No incentive can change that, no matter how much they might desire the protection of the Conventions, the same voice that argues that denial of protection is an incentive to abide, refuses their ability to accede. In a very simple way, they are not entitled to protections because they are illegitimate, not because they do not abide.

Legitimacy and Rijali's Consequences

And so, we find that legitimacy is the key to understanding the modern consequences of torture. To Dr. Rijali's first category, the whole class of slaves and lesser citizens, corresponds the notion of a terrorist, or terrorist state. People who do not have the right to be protected from torture, and cannot acquire that right. As is frequently pointed out, terrorism is a tactic. The label terrorist, however, is the modern nation-state's concept of an illegitimate. The terrorist is at once a military target, and subject to peacetime proscriptions against murder. A terrorist is not a legitimate soldier, but is not a legitimate civilian, i.e. criminal, either. In very real terms, a terrorist is an outlaw. A person who has no rights.

This is not an argument in favor of those who have commit heinous violent acts. It is an argument that the designation has evolved into a terminology for someone who is an enemy of a nation, and is without rights upon capture.

Legitimacy is also the key to Dr. Rijali's second category, and his characterization of 'clean torture'. An interrogation technique is still legitimate if it is not torture. As Dr. Rijali himself recounts (Torture and Democracy, ch. 1), torture through most of its history meant physical torture. Psychological techniques are newer, they are cleaner, and the collective unconscious, to borrow from Carl Jung, has not kept up in its archetypes. In the public mind, torture is still associated with loud cries of pain, with physical injury, with the rack and the white hot poker. By creating techniques that lack the attributes needed for the commonly held frame, a method for bypassing state legitimization of torture exists for a democracy. Democracies are answerable to their people, and if the people do not believe a technique is torture, then its cruelty is masked. No need to conceal torture by battering a person's feet, when you can make it invisible by battering the mind.

But the effect on the torturer is the same, no? Because the torturer is the one who comes to love the violence, the brutality, the control. And it is the league of torturers, their enablers, and their supporters, who bring down democracies, who strengthen executive branches, who challenge 4th Republics. They are the minds for whom there is no clean torture.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Back in the Day

Facing a New Kind of Enemy

The United States faces an existential threat, one that threatens society to its very core. Militants are jailed by a War President. After they are jailed, there are meetings to decide how to keep them, meetings about what to charge them with. They are subjected to harsh conditions. Public opinion runs high against these people. Militants on Hunger Strike! the papers proclaim. The U.S. is required by a treaty to treat prisoners of war humanely, but these are not prisoners of war.

In their prison, the "high value detainees" are subject to solitary confinement, twenty four hours a day. They are denied access to lawyers, while lawyers fight to file habeas corpus petitions for them. They are stripped, they are slapped, reports surface that a detainee has been beaten unconscious and left on the cell floor, untreated. They are shackled by their wrists to the ceiling and left there overnight. Meanwhile, a prisoner with a heart attack is ignored, and denied medical attention, and dies. Meanwhile, immigrants and minorities are subject to some of the same privations. The health care for the poor is so bad that people go to prison to obtain medical procedures. Members of some immigrant groups are castigated and demonstrated against.

The detainees start to hunger strike. The alleged leader, already in solitary confinement, is subjected to a long interrogation, psychiatrists are asked by the government to help break the detainees. The President is kept at least nominally informed of the tactics, and makes public statements that the tactics are humane and gentle. The high value detainees are subject to sleep deprivation, bright lights are shone in their solitary confinement cells once an hour to keep them from sleeping. The hunger strike continues, they are subjected to conscious orogastric intubation, which causes gagging and vomiting. They are subjected to conscious nasogastric intubation, more vomiting. Their nasal passages and throats are raw and swollen. Still, public sentiment is that they have attacked the country at its core, and after all, the country is at war, the President is seen as right to deal with the militants. The Militants, the Militants, the threat to society they pose.

Word seeps out to the press about the real conditions under which they are held. Terms like "brutality", "inhumane", begin to be used. The forced intubations, the bite blocks, the shackling start to be criticized. Judges rule that they are being held illegally without charge. Words like "torturous treatment" surface.

In the end, the War President capitulates, and the militants, still castigated by the press while their treatment is condemned, are released. Somehow, the existential threat is no longer operative.

Alice Paul, and the other "Militants", members of the National Women's Party, are released from Occoquan Workhouse. The year is 1917.

Losing Our Nerve

This story is told in detail by Doris Stevens in the book Jailed For Freedom, complete with notes written by many of those jailed. It was popularized in the HBO movie Iron Jawed Angels. The headlines and some comments can be searched at the New York Times website archive search, try "Alice Paul" in the 1851-1980 archive advanced search, put it November 1, 1917 to December 31, 1917, and you'll see the headlines about the brutal treatment, try a month earlier and use "militants" and you'll see how they were characterized. The Washington Post site contains more headlines, searched similarly. It is not whatsoever an exaggeration that many considered the suffrage movement a threat to the very core of society.

It feels strange to use this story in relation to treatment in Guantanamo or Bagram (or Abu Ghraib, or Black Sites, or...). It's similar, but from the opposite direction, to the feeling that Philippe Sands talks about when he started to make comparisons to the Nazis and the trial of Josef Altstötter and Others, at Nuremburg (The Torture Team, ch. 4). In Sands' case, the comparison of the offenses of the U.S. government to the horrors of the Nazis is in itself difficult and repulsive. "I felt uncomfortable even making that kind of comparison, but what struck me as a point of connection was the underlying issue of principle..." (p.25).

I feel somewhat the same discomfort here, there is a very big difference between suffragists arrested for picketing a war time president, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who in a different world might have been tried in a proper court with international venue, and convicted of heinous mass murder. But we are not in a different world, and most of the 27,000 or so of the prisoners picked up by the United States are thought, even by their interrogators, to have done nothing.

The reason the comparison needs to be made is that it is striking, and it dispels a favorite argument beyond doubt. All the treatment above occurred as stated, I only embellished to the point of referring to the suffragists as "detainees" and to Ms. Paul and some others as "high valued". All the treatment was quite tolerated by an irate public, as long as it was in the shadows, and the government assured the people that the prisoners were being treated well, and even liked the way they were being treated. The handwritten notes, the equivalent of the Abu Ghraib photographs or leaked Red Cross documents at Guantanamo, or coroner's reports at Bagram, got out to the press with the real story, and the American public reacted with revulsion against inhumanity and outrages upon personal dignity.

That was back in the day. According to arguments made by many in the administration, and by many frequently since Vietnam and again during this conflict, is that America has lost its nerve. America is hemmed in by international meddling, the Geneva Conventions, the United Nations. America knew how to defend freedom back in the day. America didn't shrink from harsh tactics. Call up Teddy Roosevelt, call up FDR. Talk about making sacrifices about existential threats. America is at war. Those people have no rights, show me where they deserve rights.

Actually, back in the day, once the truth about inhumane treatment surfaced, it was all over for the those who were treating the militants as an existential threat to be dealt with harshly. Because back in the day, people believed in human dignity. And that did not include harsh treatment, it did not include slamming heads against bedstands, it did not include forced intubation and shackling, or sleep deprivation and long solitary confinement. It did not include preventing all contact with the outside world, it did not include denial of habeas corpus rights, or detention for crimes never proven. Back in the day, even a war time president commanding the military in a declared war was not entitled to treat human beings, even those with less rights, that way.

And as for the comparison between a non-violent Quaker Ph.D. political scientist U.S. citizen campaigning for a just cause and islamofascist mass murderers who hate our way of life and threaten our freedom and democracy? Human rights are the very most basic of civil rights to which any human being is entitled. In order to espouse them, one must grant them to every human being. Withholding them does not punish the prisoner, it taints the nation that does so. This nation will never have the satisfaction, the closure, of seeing the person who conceived of and orchestrated the September 11th attacks tried in an internationally recognized court and duly convicted on evidence gathered by methods that were above reproach.

When the full truth comes out about what has been done to any of the 150,000 prisoners that have passed through U.S. custody in the global war on terror is known, we will see whether we have the decency to admit wrong and make amends that people had. Back in the day, back before the country lost its nerve.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Some things are baffling: How Americans could learn of torture and not react to the news. How American soldiers and CIA could practice torture and not disobey or refuse. How could the news media decide almost en masse to play down coverage of such a thing?

I know, I know, the banality of evil and all that. I'm not belittling it, I certainly do believe in it, but it really doesn't account for it all in detail, just says it can happen. It isn't like no one has fought very hard against the practice. There are awareness and advocacy organizations. There have been media exposés. There are phalanxes of lawyers who have been trying to represent prisoners in various courts for years now. There is medical documentation. There are confidential appraisements by the ICRC, there are public appraisements by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. House Resolution 626 and Senate Resolution 303 specifically mention torture and cruel treatment. Letters from members of the House of Representatives have called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate possible war crimes connected to torture at Guantanamo, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan.

Then why, given that torture is shocking to human beings, is it so hard to arouse the public?

Accommodation and Sensitization

So this is a post about substrates. How the underlying conditions change what is seen to something else, in all of the minds that interact with it. There are actually two things the brain does with sensory input (or emotional or cognitive input at a higher level). One is accomodation: the brain accomodates to the ambient qualities of the input as a means of adjusting to the environment. It can do this locally, as when two colors are juxtaposed and the perception of one affects the perception of the other, or it can do it globally, like when the eye adjusts to the level of light or darkness. In essence, it will take the edge off of perception, make it the norm. The other is sensitization: the brain can be put into various states of alertness and heightened perception when the input is amplified in some way over what it would be otherwise. A situation of perceived danger, for instance, will cause more sensory information to be processed, and parts of the brain have different states of activity, depending on a whole host of neurotransmitters, hormones, levels of blood flow, and the like. So there is, in essence no 'objective' view of reality, only the currently operative one. The same set of wavelengths in the same relative strengths, can be perceived as red, green, blue, or anything in between, given differing ambient and local conditions. And both by similar mechanisms, and by analogy, a person can perceive a situation like abusive treatment in many ways depending on the local (current) circumstances, or the global ambient (standard procedures, traditions, customs) circumstances.

The Detainee Substrate

The first substrate is the the designation detainee. It would seem that for the past some odd years, there has been a growing gap between the rights of a prisoner and the rights of a detainee. In fact, in the case of those held in our military prisons, the term detainee seems to be used to avoid the use of the term prisoner, an analog and perhaps an alternate set of vocabulary to calling people either prisoners of war or illegal enemy combatants. It would seem that what distinguishes a detainee from a prisoner is whether there has been a judgment that would imply that the person was being incarcerated as a punishment, or whether they are being 'held' for some reason. In the realm of the burgeoning military detention system that the Bush administration has built up as part of its 'war on terror', it is both: the term detainee is applied to people who are both being held without charge 'for the duration of conflict', and it is applied to indicate that they are not thought to be entitled to the rights of someone designated as a prisoner of war.

But this double use has also apparently been used in the immigration detention system. The term detainee there carries no original diminution of rights, really. There is no 3rd Geneva Convention to be shortened from its full length of protections to the third of a page known as Common Article 3. The people there have never been judged to have relinquished their rights under some criterion like that they weren't wearing uniforms or something, because they never were prisoners of war. They are, rather, immigrants who are awaiting immigration hearings: illegal immigrants awaiting deportations, or just people who have requested asylum who are waiting for their hearings. The title detainee invokes the same substrate as with the military prisoners, though. They are not given the rights that a prisoner convicted of a crime in America is given. Remarkably, Justice Scalia, defending the '24' brand of torture, and perhaps mulling the lethal injections case before the court, opined that the Constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment applied only to prisoners: to people who had been charged and convicted of crimes, and not before. The 'detainee' substrate satisfies all those who believe that only citizens should have Constitutional rights (not true), it satisfies all those who believe that there should be some prisoners that are entitled to less. In the 4 part series Careless Detention, by Dana Priest and Amy Goldstein in the Washington Post, it is possible to see just how little our government apparently believes detainees are entitled to. In some cases, they appear not to be entitled to medical care when they will die without it.

The Substrate of Violence

The next substrate is desensitization of the public and of public officials. Whether this is due to violence in life, or violence in the media, or violence in the movies or video games or whether it is just due to a growing insensitivity towards mistreatment, it is hard to tell. It is important, as a matter of the ambient level of abuse which leaves one disturbed. How many people can watch crime shows, movies, or thrillers, and react to a person of authority beating a suspect, or beating a prisoner, without much emotion? It is argued, I think reasonably, that the average person can tell the difference between fantasy and reality, but the stories in the news are media, not everyday life, and they may blend more easily into the backdrop of fictional acceptability than the same scene would if it were unfolding before a person in real life. In order for the public to get upset over images of torture on the TV, they have to shock when seen on TV not in real life. And that makes such desensitization more relevant.

Desensitization goes on very quickly when it appears that some abusive behavior is the norm. In the movie Standard Operating Procedure, Errol Morris subjects the audience to constant pictures of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, almost always naked, frequently restrained in stress positions, handcuffed to bed posts, to the bars of a cell, and intersperses these with what frequently sounds like reasonable explanations from the military police and the interrogators, who complain that things weren't right, but that they were told that that was the way things were done, and not to question. By the time people working for the prosecution begin tagging pictures as criminal or standard operating procedure, the viewer perhaps doesn't question the first S.O.P. designation, until one wrenches one's head out of the film context and says, "Wait a minute!" In point of fact, what is so characterized is not normal, and the viewer has had only an hour and a half of exposure to it to accommodate.

Desensitization to very powerful punishment techniques has gone on in our society for a long time. How many people would react with much surprise to the knowledge that a prisoner was being held in solitary confinement? We hear, or read, the term 'supermax' with reference to a prison, referring to something that is beyond maximum security confinement, but never think that it is a reference to solitary confinement, and probably would have little reaction if we knew that. But, as I have cited before, Stuart Grassian's testimony shows that solitary confinement is a deprivation that drives prisoners insane, and can permanently damage personalities and social interaction abilities. Desensitization to sleep deprivation is similar: All of us know the feeling of missing a night's sleep, either for work, for study, perhaps taking care of an infant or a sick child, perhaps on a wild night in one's past, or doing shelter ops during a disaster. It is hard to feel the fact that deprivation like that over a longer period, with sleep purposely interrupted, could disorganize the personality, and was so apparently cruel that people would do virtually anything to get sleep.

The Deprivation Substrate

Which brings us to the substrate that makes torture seem not that bad. This is the substrate of cruel, but passive, techniques that bring the prisoner's psyche to the breaking point, or beyond, without blood, or bruises, or scars. In Errol Morris' movie, a soldier sums up with the notion that what they were doing was just humiliation, what the OGAs (Other Government Agencies, usually CIA) were doing was the torture. At the point at which he says that, the viewer knows that prisoners have been beaten to death by the others, so one finds oneself nodding in agreement. Slapping inmates, humiliating them, playing loud music at them, it all seems so tame, and we are told it is -- what about those guys who pull fingernails out, or behead people, and so forth.

And that is the final triumph of substrates over reason. First there was the substrate that said, "This is a detainee, they don't deserve the rights we Americans do." Then there was the substrate that said, "I've seen the detective do worse on my favorite TV show." Then there was the substrate that said, "Solitary is legal punishment," and said, "Losing sleep, I lose sleep, it isn't that bad."

From the prisoner's point of view, the substrate is not an accomodation though, it's a sensitization. The lack of sleep, the solitary confinement, the constant humiliation, the fear. That's a substrate that has the prisoner's personality tipping constantly over the edge into madness and horror. And with that as a substrate, one slap, one barking dog, one session hooded standing on a box with wires attached to ones hands, is a huge shock to the mind. Peel away the substrate of the American onlooker, the accommodating one. Substitute the substrate that sensitizes, that makes everything a struggle to maintain one's sanity. That peeling away is what the American public needs to do. Without the accommodation, the plain light of day is too bright and hurts the eye. Without the sanity of the armchair view, sensitivity to physical or emotional pain robs the mind of its faculties. Arrange the substrates to dull the onlooker and sensitize the victim, and then those slaps become the worst possible evil: Torture that fails to shock the public conscience.

Friday, May 9, 2008

What's Wrong with this Argument?

A Clarification

In his numerous articles, and presumably in his books on the subject, writer Sam Harris has argued fervently that if religion were not the cause of all brutality, crimes against humanity, and genocide, it is certainly a dominant factor. Together with this argument is usually coupled the idea that the rational approach of the sciences brings morality and an end to dehumanization.

I am thus willing to bet that my piece on the Albigensian Crusade would be eligible for citation as proof of the brutality of those in the sway of religion. I had quite a different impression in mind. The point of looking at the degeneration evident in moving from the early Catholic Church to the destruction of the Cathars, was, in fact, because of the parallel to the United States, not to blast some inherent evil of organized religion. It is the peculiar juxtaposition of power, message, and threats that is so unnervingly similar.

Like the United States, the Church starts with a revolution in its views of society, a new social compact, and a message to the world of that compact. Like the United States, the Church has the elements of this compact enshrined in a founding document, a document that embodies truths so basic to the message that it takes on a revered status. Like the United States, the Church rose to a position of great authority based on the perceived universality of that message for all mankind. Like the United States, the Church put in place bans on inhuman activity. Like the United States, within the Church, movements arose that harshly re-interpreted the 'original meaning' of the founding documents. Like the United States, the Church began to see itself as, to use a recently coined expression, a 'benevolent hegemony', that could impose its superior beliefs on those who it felt needed them by the exercise of its power. Like the United States, the Church then engaged in wars on its borders that it believed were existential in nature. Like the United States, the Church eventually started a war against an intangible, heresy, that led to retraction of many of the policies banning inhuman activity, and the descent into practices once deemed immoral and evil.

The doctrines that make up the founding and rise of the United States are not religious doctrines, nor is the Constitution a religious document. In fact, a good case could be made that the Founding Fathers were squarely in Sam Harris' camp, believers in the morality of the rational mind. But comparisons go both ways: In as much as the Church has later admitted that it descended into evil behavior that it has since recanted and repented, and which forever stains its past, so such a descent will do the same to the United States, if it continues to move in the direction of repudiating its earlier and fervent positions on human rights and against actions like torture. And it cannot be that dogmatism and dehumanization are the sole province of souring religious organizations if they occur and likewise sour secular organizations in the same way. The documents that I relied on to show the about face the Church made between the 7th and 12th centuries on torture were prepared by Catholics. They perceive the changes their church went through as a descent into the ways of the past, into the brutality of the Roman Empire, much the same way that we nervously compare the treatment at CIA Black Sites with the past, the gulags or the Spanish Inquisition.

I'm sorry. I would, as a scientist, love to believe that merely by educating everyone and training them in the methods of rational thought and inquiry that are embodied in science, we could rid the world of all brutality and inhumanity. I would love to think that somehow torture, the subject of this blog, would disappear through an agency as simple, albeit difficult to implement, as scientific or mathematical education. I have a lot to share in common with Mr. Harris, a fascination in the function of the brain, experimentation in the effects of meditation, even a distaste for the effects of those who would eliminate the separation of church and state in America, or would attempt to legislate the theory of evolution out of the minds of its children.

The Wrong Argument

But it isn't true. And one of the best examples of that is Sam Harris himself.

In his 2005 piece, In Defense of Torture, Mr. Harris begins by recounting the ticking bomb argument, pointing out that it can be re-sized to fit the morals of the most fervent doubter, adding 'embellishments' and dire consequences until it awakens, "the Grand Inquisitor in most of us." In his later defenses, specifically for this theory, he invokes the notion of 'thought experiments', which have sort of an elevated status in science after Einstein's theory of relativity. He mentions, "But realism is not the point of such thought experiments. The point is that unless you have an argument that rules out torture even in idealized cases, you don’t have a categorical argument against the use of torture." An argument of absolute immorality does that, and does it quite well. The Convention Against Torture says,

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

(Article 2, clauses 2 and 3). Why appeal to absolutism here? The principle, as elucidated last week before the House Judiciary Committee by Marjorie Cohn, is called jus cogens. It is that some rules of human behavior are so fundamental and basic, that they supercede all laws and treaties that would limit them. If such laws and treaties were formulated, they would be null and void for having done so. The things for which this principle applies are things like genocide, slavery, aggressive war, and, well, torture.

Such absolutism isn't obviated by a recourse to science, science is full of absolutes. To name a most basic one, nothing is fact unless it can be verified by a repeatable controlled experiment. To name another, much more 'controversial' in its scope (actually quite breathtaking in its implications) but never disputed, the Law of Parsimony: that the simplest theory that accounts for all the known relevant data, is not only the best (Occam's razor), it is also the Truth. Harris' own research is dominated by the belief that the BOLD activation signals in fMRI are mapping out the areas of the brain in which complex cognition is mediated, without knowing what the mechanisms of that cognition are, simply that whatever they are, they require the nutrition of increased blood flow. Most in his new field rely on the neuron hypothesis, and on other aspects of the past studies of the activity of neurons, that are anything but 100% sureties. I don't necessarily dispute any of the dogma in this paragraph, I just assert that science is not without its dogma.

His second argument, however is one that he believes has no refutation. He believes, and I will quote him at length,

In modern warfare, “collateral damage”—the maiming and killing innocent noncombatants—is unavoidable. And it will remain unavoidable for the foreseeable future. Collateral damage would be a problem even if our bombs were far “smarter” than they are now. It would also be a problem even if we resolved to fight only defensive wars. There is no escaping the fact that whenever we drop bombs, we drop them with the knowledge that some number of children will be blinded, disemboweled, paralyzed, orphaned, and killed by them.

The only way to rule out collateral damage would be to refuse to fight wars under any circumstances. As a foreign policy, this would leave us with something like the absolute pacifism of Gandhi. While pacifism in this form can constitute a direct confrontation with injustice (and requires considerable bravery), it is only applicable to a limited range of human conflicts. Where it is not applicable, it is seems flagrantly immoral. We would do well to reflect on Gandhi’s remedy for the Holocaust: he believed that the Jews should have committed mass suicide, because this “would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler’s violence.” We might wonder what a world full of pacifists would have done once it had grown “aroused”—commit suicide as well? There seems no question that if all the good people in the world adopted Gandhi’s ethics, the thugs would inherit the earth.

So we can now ask, if we are willing to act in a way that guarantees the misery and death of some considerable number of innocent children, why spare the rod with known terrorists? I find it genuinely bizarre that while the torture of Osama bin Laden himself could be expected to provoke convulsions of conscience among our leaders, the perfectly foreseeable (and therefore accepted) slaughter of children does not.

This argument is one of many moving parts. In essence, though, it is an argument against the laws of war in their entirety, since the same argument can be made as to all of the bans in the Geneva Conventions: torture, inhumane treatment, denial of a trial, aggressive warfare, you name it, can all pale in comparison to the horror of the massive destruction of war itself in at least some circumstances, especially if one allows justification by means of Gedanken like the embellished ticking bomb theory. So in essence, because the laws of war are incapable of banning war, they are not acceptable, since the war that is not banned are 'more immoral' than the crimes the laws ban.

The argument displays an astonishing ignorance of the underlying premises of the Geneva Conventions, that is, of the laws of war. When Henri Dunant and Gustav Moynier first convened meetings to hammer out the laws of war, their intent was to lessen the brutality of war, which they regarded, as Harris does, as inevitable. In that context, any ban on behaviors must be absolute: if it were not, it is inevitable that an excuse could be found, and quite quickly it turns out, for overriding it. Therefore, as rational a man as Mr. Harris pretends to be should be equally rational in understanding what kinds of prohibitions are and are not effective to carry out the mandate of the originators of the Geneva Conventions: to lessen the brutality of war. Were he to check, Mr. Harris would find that 'collateral damage' is defined as damage that could not be obviated, given the necessity of war, be it killing, injuring, or destroying property. Consequently, by definition, if all the damage is truly collateral damage, it is the best the combatants could do to minimize immorality given war. Any other damage, while it may be claimed to be collateral damage, is more than that.

Further, it is possible to move down the slope that Mr. Harris finds to be not slippery into justifying genocide. Here's the biggest possible ticking bomb theory: A scientific prediction that unless 4 billion less people inhabit the world by the end of the next five years, the planet will tend, with probability one, to a rapid warming that will diverge within 200 years to the climate of the planet Venus -- that is, all life on earth will be extinguished. Since nothing could possibly be as brutal and immoral as the total and permanent destruction of life itself, genocide now becomes the 'torture solution'. Hey, it's a thought experiment, its elements are, or were, all actually valid, only with all the numbers changed, just as the ticking bomb experiment changes the numbers to render an excuse for torture.

Harris then argues that torture should remain always illegal, but should be practiced when necessary. So apparently he does not really believe in the rule of law, either. Then his final "Harris Law of Torture" is that torture should never be practiced in any circumstances unless the prisoner is Osama bin Laden. After all his talk about how the excesses of Mao and Pol Pot can be seen as religious in nature and not atheist because they were personality cults, which are basically religions, he himself ends up believing in the personification of evil.

Somehow, perhaps, the psychologists devising tortures for the black sites, or the physicists who worked on the Manhattan Project, would have to fit Harris' characterization of 93% atheist, I would assume. They are, after all, as a result of being scientists, uncontaminated by the 'dogma of faith'.

Which I guess is why Robert Oppenheimer, relying on his own translation from Sanskrit, upon witnessing the very first atomic explosion, quoted the Bhagavad Gita (Lit. God's Song), saying "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."

His core argument on religion is that only religion can produce the rigidity of thought and strong emotions necessary to dehumanize people sufficiently to kill or be cruel. His argument is that if there were another discipline that could do this, then because it can do this, it is therefore a religion. Rationality is the only way to avoid evil, therefore science is the antithesis of religion, and is always a force for the good. In essence: religion is the root of all evil because 'root of all evil' is the definition of religion. Science is the root of all good, because there are only two possibilities, and the other one is the root of all evil. (I would imagine that I am anathema to Harris).

His second argument is that because thought experiments are the basis for the theory of relativity, and the theory of relativity is science, they are a universal method of determining the truth, and need not be grounded in empirical data. True to form, the minute his situational ethics becomes divorced of any absolutes whatsoever, it immediately descends into approval of the very cruelty it purports to expunge. But then that would be one of the many consequences of the Stanford Prison Experiment, which is science, no?

Hegemony and Humility Don't Mix

How does one avoid this consequence? Perhaps by being a bit more humble. Instead of standing overlooking the Sea of Galilee imagining that one has mastered the destruction of self, and then going on to assert ones self as superiorly trained, one must in fact understand the shaman, as well as the Buddha. The shaman is capable of putting reality together in multiple ways, that is his/her distinguishing cognitive characteristic. That is another aspect of the spiritual, perhaps, one that, because of its intensely personal nature, its absolute requirement of belief without independent verification, is much more difficult to sterilize of its trappings and render as purely cognitive neuroscience in its essence. In small ways, this flexibility of perception led to developments in psychophysics and cognitive neuroscience too. But in its essence, the shaman phenomenon asserts that no one perceptual tradition would hold the supremacy of objectivity. That phenomenon is borne out in many experiments, not the least in experiments on inhumanity like the SPE. It therefore argues that concepts like jus cogens, like absolute prohibitions, like a ground level denial that torture can ever be the morally good behavior to practice, are just as valid as any thought experiment, and perhaps lead to a superior morality than elevating science as the next benign hegemony. Scientific inquiry, like the Constitution of the United States, like the Gospel of the Church, is after all, rooted itself in humility.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Depriving A Child

A Busy Day?

Sometimes it's hard to know where to start. One hopes that this indicates that a national and even an international dialog on torture is gradually starting and gaining prominence. On Salon, Alex Koppelman notes an AP release that an Iraqi man, Emad al-Janabi, is suing two U.S. contractors for torture at Abu Ghraib in 2003. At least there will be some action that isn't being bottled up by military commissions, a reluctant Congress, or maybe just dull headed editorial boards. The Washington Post is attempting to come clean on their lack of torture reporting, they were among the major outlets that maintained a far less than noble silence on the NSC Principals story, in their case trying to claim that it had all been reported before.

In their editorial Coming Clean on Torture, they commend the Bush administration for announcing it will make documents available to select members of Congress. It's a little hard to understand how a major news organization with access to so much information could fall so flat on such an important issue. They want Congress to "communicate clearly to the administration their concerns..." and "vigorously press" the administration on its "long-running effort to circumvent the domestic anti-torture statute and the international Convention Against Torture." Weak tea for international crimes, no? Congress has both the right and the authority, and under the Convention Against Torture, the obligation, to investigate, prosecute, and punish those in the administration who have created systems for torture. Communicating concerns is not even close to being enough. But it appears, as well, that the Post has difficulties understanding the proscriptions against torture, somehow seeing circumstances that are "understandable, and at times even forgivable." For the record, the statutes the Washington Post cites do not posit any understandable or forgivable torture, and the editorial, perhaps an attempt to place the Post on the side of justice, falls instead as an apology for the indefensible.

More on Less

At the end of the last post, I spent a few paragraphs on sensory deprivation. I'd like to spend a few more, and consider the continuum that includes both cutting off the senses of sight and sound with goggles and earphones, and possibly in some cases the sense of touch with tubes around the arms or in isolation tanks, and the punishment known as solitary confinement, whether or not it is undertaken for long periods of time or short ones. I'd like to do that because of a particular prisoner. Democracy Now! is running an Amy Goodman interview with Michelle Shepard, called Guantanamo's Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr. The title is the title of a new book by Ms. Shepard on Omar Khadr, a Canadian of Egyptian-Canadian parents, who is both the youngest prisoner currently at Guantanamo, and will, apparently, become the youngest person to be tried before the Military Commissions, and the first person in modern history to be tried for war crimes committed as a child.

There's a lot that is wrong with the story. There are conflicting reports and testimony about whether or not Omar Khadr killed an American soldier in Afghanistan. Some of the attitudes are quite frankly surprising. Khadr gets no support from Canada, because his brother told Canadian press that "We are an al Qaeda family." His lawyers have argued that he should not be tried because the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Geneva Conventions Additional Protocols both ban such actions for minors. [Note: The U.S. did not ratify the Additional Protocols. Under the Vienna Conventions, which the U.S. also did not ratify, but which it cites as a codification of existing law of nations, a party that signs a protocol but does not ratify it is required to refrain from violations but not required to enforce it. Thus the U.S. should not violate the Additional Protocols.] And that doesn't get to the heart of it: A child, but one who was arguably acting as a combatant, is charged with the "war crime" of killing a soldier. The Khadr was in a building that was an obvious military target of U.S. forces (it was bombed), he was shot by soldiers there, and there is even a possibility that the soldier was in fact killed by friendly fire, clear indications that there was no concealment of a military role. In what sense is participating in a two sided firefight anything but an act of war? He is, instead, criminal because he is being considered not a combatant but a terrorist (also the argument as to why his minority status doesn't matter).

However, there is more. Omar Khadr was held in solitary confinement for periods of time, and was put in sensory deprivation during his transport from Bagram to Guantanamo. In 2003, he was put in solitary confinement for lengthy periods of time in 2003 and in 2004. He was examined several times by medical experts, and Rolling Stone documented in 2006 that Dr. Eric Turpin filed a report in November 2004 in which he stated, in part,

"The impact of these harsh interrogation techniques on an adolescent such as O.K., who also has been isolated for almost three years, is potentially catastrophic to his future development," Trupin stated in his report. "Long-term consequences of harsh interrogation techniques are both more pronounced for adolescents and more difficult to remediate or treat even after such interrogations are discontinued, particularly if the victim is uncertain as to whether they will resume. It is my opinion, to a reasonable scientific certainty, that O.K.'s continued subjection to the threat of physical and mental abuse places him at significant risk for future psychiatric deterioration, which may include irreversible psychiatric symptoms and disorders, such as a psychosis with treatment-resistant hallucinations, paranoid delusions and persistent self-harming attempts."

Indeed. The report cited in my previous post, on solitary confinement, by Stuart Grassian, notes a symptomology of solitary confinement that parallels, not surprisingly, that of full sensory deprivation, albeit a bit slower on onset. Not much, however. There were student experimental subjects experiencing the first effects of solitary confinement after periods of a day or two in the Stanford Prison Experiment (Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect). The effects he cites, include (p.13),

The restriction of environmental stimulation and social isolation associated with confinement in solitary are strikingly toxic to mental functioning, producing a stuporous condition associated with perceptual and cognitive impairment and affective disturbances. In more severe cases, in mates so confined have developed florid delirium - a confusional psychosis with intense agitation, fearfulness, and disorganization. But even those inmate who are more psychologically resilient inevitably suffer severe psychological pain as a result of such confinement, especially when the confinement is prolonged, and especially when the individual experiences this confinement as being the product of an arbitrary exercise of power and intimidation. Moreover, the harm caused by such confinement may result in prolonged or permanent psychiatric disability, including impairments which may seriously reduce the inmate's capacity to reintegrate into the broader community upon release from prison.

Dr. Grassian also notes that the symptoms are etiologically strikingly similar to organic brain dysfunction, particularly to delirium, and that the combination of symptoms associated with profound solitary confinement and sensory deprivation are rare otherwise (p. 5). He notes that the long term lasting effects, aside from social impairments (Anti-Social Personality Disorder), include PTSD.

But what about the fact that Khadr underwent these harsh treatments as a minor? Recently, there has been much talk about the adolescent brain not being as fully formed as an adult's, much later into adolescence than previously believed. Although there are disputes about this, there is some research to indicate that crucial wiring operations are going on into adolescence and are interrupted by sensory deprivation. So for someone who is not an adult, there is the potential for much more serious damage to brain function, as Dr. Turpin mentioned.

Consider this: A brain is a functioning organ of the human body that is necessary for life, sensation, locomotion, thought, and personality. If it's wiring is permanently impaired, if it is subjected to insult that creates symptoms consistent with neurological central nervous system dysfunction, if that is exacerbated when the victim is a child, then no matter what the restrictive definition of torture adopted by the Bush administration Office of Legal Council, even that written by John Yoo in 2002, what Omar Khadr underwent, even without the subjection to pain, humiliation and threats he endured, caused a quite likely permanent damage to an organ of his body. Is this the kind of pain consistent with "major organ failure"? Maybe we should ask Professor Yoo.

One Final Note

A commenter on the previous post noted that June 26 is the U.N. Day Against Torture. Specifically, it is the anniversary of the entering into force of the U.N. Convention Against Torture. There is a notice about activities for that day on the IRCT website. No one should lose site of the fact that all torture should end, that practiced by the U.S. and that practiced by others. But it would be nice if by that time, Congress had begun their investigations in earnest on the U.S. transgressions. Thank you, to the anonymous poster.